Parents must lead by example when it comes to distracted driving, including texting.
As a young adult at the ripe age of 24, I can confidently say that my generation has been transformed by the smartphone. Not only has it changed the way we communicate, but also when we communicate. I have found myself to be proficient in texting while walking, texting while running, texting while shopping, and yes, in the past, I have been guilty of texting while driving.
Now that I am on the front lines of safe-driving advocacy, I see the devastating impact that distracted driving can have on an individual, families and the community at large. I have the opportunity to work with various high schools in the Middle Tennessee region on a program called, Be in the Zone-Turn Off Your Phone. This program encourages teenagers to experience a day of lessons to educate and engage them in the fight against distracted driving. The students then use what they have learned and translate it into a yearlong distracted driving campaign in their schools with a focus on cellphone use, especially texting while driving.
One of the most emotional and heart-wrenching conversations that we have with the teens is regarding their interactions with parents and caregivers on the topic of distracted driving. Tears fill some of the students’ eyes as they express their feelings when their parents are driving distracted, mainly due to texting:
“It upsets me. Makes me feel unsafe. Makes me feel like they don’t care about me. That they think their phone is more important than their own life,” said one boy, age 16.
“I am nervous because I am afraid we will have a wreck,” said another boy, age 15.
“My mom does it all the time. She swerves when she drives and I am afraid,” said one 16-year-old girl.
Teens look to their parents as models of what is acceptable in terms of safe driving habits. Parents should know that every time they get behind the wheel with their teen in the car they are providing an example that their child is likely to follow.
What can you as a parent do to set the bar for distracted driving? Follow these simple tips and you will be on your way to keeping your family safe:
• Turn off the cell phone while driving. Some people recommend keeping it in your purse or the back seat.
• Make sure your passengers, especially children, have their snacks and entertainment at the ready, so you are not reaching behind you.
• Eat, apply makeup and dress before you drive.
• Assign a “designated texter,” a passenger in the car to send and reply to texts and calls.
• Read all maps before heading out. If you need to check directions, pull over.
Driving requires your full attention. You can take charge of eliminating distractions to focus on the road ahead. As a general rule, if you cannot devote your full attention to driving because of some other activity, it’s a distraction. Take care of it before or after your trip, not while behind the wheel.
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Emily Riley is an injury prevention program coordinator at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital with a background in adolescent health and development. When she is not working, Emily enjoys running, cooking and baking, being outdoors, exploring local coffee shops and spending time with the people she loves. She also has a hard time putting down a good book.